Example #1 – The Glass Menagerie – Williams Autobiography
Tennessee Williams’s entire life was about escape and so it is not surprising that he should choose to emphasize this theme in many of his major works. The Glass Menagerie is an autobiographical story about his life and the struggles that he faced with his family and himself. The play mirrors many aspects of his young life and emphasizes the need for escape in order to survive. The three main characters who illustrate this need most clearly are Amanda, Laura, and Tom.
Amanda Wingfield vividly depicts the likeness of Williams’s real mother, Edwina Dakin Williams. She was an overbearing, manipulative hysterical woman who thrived on the memories of a better time, much like Amanda Wingfield does. Edwina was the puritanical daughter of an Episcopal rector and grew up in a comfortable, luxurious, wealthy southern lifestyle. Her removal from this lifestyle had devastating effects on her and the upbringing of her children.
They fell into poverty and as a result of their financial strain and the recent move to St Louis, she became constantly ill. After ongoing issues with abuse and neglect from her husband, Edwina turned her back on him and placed her entire focus on her children. She was very overprotective of them because she saw them as very fragile. Williams seemed weak and different, and at age 5, he contracted diphtheria leaving him in an even worsened condition. His sister Rose, represented by the character Laura Wingfield, was also very sensitive and suffered from schizophrenia. In the play, Amanda sees similar weaknesses in her children and responds in a similar way.
She utilizes an almost hysterical mechanism of denial in order to cope. Her method of escape is to fall deep into the past and reminisce about her glory days. She surrounds her reality with images of the days when she saw herself as the southern belle, and whenever she urges her family forward; she inevitably retreats to a time when her chief problem was to choose a beau over all the other beaus. In real life, some of Edwina s fondest moments were spent with a young man named Paul Jameson, and although she was married and never became romantically involved with him, it is clearly suggested he represents Amanda s gentleman caller…
The one who got away. And I could have been Mrs. Duncan J. Fitzhugh, mind you! But I picked your father! (line 33, pg. 1295). In order to relieve some of these fond memories again, Amanda sets up a caller for Laura as well. She is so wrapped up in the delusions of her girlhood conquests that she is unaware of the realities of the world around her. She does not see that Laura s life is not her own.
However, when she discovers that her plan has failed, that Jim is actually engaged, she forgets all her silly lies and sees the humiliating position that she has put herself and Laura in. That s right, now that you’ve had us make such fools of ourselves… All for what? To entertain some other girls fiance! (line 320, pg. 1337). Finally, she realizes that she is alone and sees the reality of the situation for what it is. She is, …a mother deserted, [with] an unmarried sister who s crippled and has no job! (line 320, pg. 1337).
Rose Williams was Williams’s most beloved sister and the character Laura Wingfield is modeled very closely after her. Their relationship growing up was very close and they had an almost psycho-spiritual kinship with each other. Rose had always been a very quiet, perceptive, delicate girl but her transition to St. Louis, where she was removed from the security and thrown into a world of alarm and despair, caused her hideous inner turmoil and she was unable to cope with life. Laura Wingfield is unable to cope as well and instead, she creates an elaborate world in which she can safely withdraw. Laura uses her victrola and collection of delicate glass ornaments to help maintain her fantasy world.
Frightened of interacting with people and the outside world, she looks to her collection of glass animals as a place of secure acceptance. She self-induces sickness in her typing class and even as the gentleman caller awaits her in the living room in order to avoid or postpone reality. Laura s character is very significant to Williams and therefore is surrounded in symbolism to enhance this importance. The unicorn symbolizes Laura, who is a delicate translucent being, out of place in the contemporary world. The name Blue Roses also serves to show that she is very delicate and unique.
This is Williams’s subtle tribute to his cherished sister Rose. Later in life, Rose becomes very ill, completely debilitated by her own anxiety and fears. She is diagnosed as a schizophrenic and her mother, who is by now at her wits end with the constant struggles that she is repeatedly faced with, allows a pre-frontal lobotomy to be performed on Rose. She is sent to a sanitarium where she remains for most of her life. The glass menagerie illustrates her difference and her delicacy, as the other symbols do, but it is also a collection of rarities, and so it could be inferred that in fact, the menagerie is a morbidly ironic representation of the sanitarium where Rose is ultimately forced to live. A collection of lost souls, equally fragile and equally estranged from reality.
Tennessee William s real name was Thomas Lanier Williams, Tom for short. The character Tom is not meant to merely represent him… It is him. Growing up Williams was faced with many struggles and hardships. After moving to St. Louis he became ill, and the kids at school taunted him and called him Sissy because he was so weak and could not play baseball. At home, his own father would call him Miss Nancy. After getting poor grades at high school, his father pulled him out and suggested that he work with him, down at International Shoe. Williams called these bleak years, Living Death.
To vent his frustrations with his unfulfilling work, Williams retreated to his room after work each night to write. Similarly, Tom chooses to escape the dreary world he lives in by writing poetry and stealing away to the movies where he can live vicariously through the lives and adventures of other people. He dreams about joining the Merchant Marines and one-day becoming a published writer.
Tom relies on self-denial to justify his concerns and feelings of insecurity. I m like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! (line 128, pg. 1321). By making himself believe that he is a righteous male, he convinces himself that his own needs supersede those of his family. Tom> I paid my dues [to the Union of Merchant Seamen] this month, instead of the light bill. (line 124, pg. 1321) Jim > How about your mother? (line 127, pg. 1321) Tom> Mother is not yet acquainted with my plans! (line 130, pg. 1321). Claiming to be an artist of emotions, he projects to the audience a facade of control and masculinity, yet his biggest dreams flash before his eyes on a screen in a darkened room, and in that little apartment, he faces only dimness. Eventually, Tom leaves, but he’s going away is not the escape that he craved for so long.
The guilt of abandoning his sister Laura is overwhelming and he realizes too late that leaving is not an escape at all but really just a path towards even more powerful desperation. The shoe factory job, the poetry writing, the cramped living quarters and the very close relationship with his sister are all echoes of William s own experiences. These autobiographical touches perhaps explain his own identification with the character s need for escape.
Williams uses the theme of escape throughout The Glass Menagerie to demonstrate the hopelessness and futility of each character’s dreams while emphasizing the importance of creating an environment where each can dwell safely, and in doing so, survive against adversity. Amanda, Laura, and Tom use various escape mechanisms to avoid reality and their actions parallel those of Williams’s real mother and sister, Edwina and Rose, as well as his own.
All four members of the Wingfield family have chosen to hide from reality. Discuss this evaluation of the characters in The Glass Menagerie, making careful reference to the text. In Tennessee Williams? play, the glass menagerie, all four members of the Wingfield family have chosen to hide from reality. Amanda tries to relive her past through Laura and denies anything she does not want to accept.
Laura is terrified of the real world and chooses to hide behind her limp, her glass menagerie and the victrola. Tom hides from his reality by going to the movies, writing poetry, and getting drunk. Mr. Wingfield hides from his reality by leaving his family and not contacting them after he has done so. Each member of the Wingfield family has their own escape mechanism which they use to hide or escape from the real world.
Amanda has chosen to hide from reality by trying to relive her past. She is living in the unreality of her youthful memories and sees herself as still being as young as Laura when she says to her, No, sister, no, sister? you be the lady this time and I’ll be the darkey? (p 237). Does she reminisce about one Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain? (p 237) when she received seventeen gentleman callers and then tries to relive this through Laura.
She arranges for Tom to bring home some nice young man for his sister. When Tom brings home a gentleman caller, Amanda wears a girlish frock of yellowed voile with a blue silk sash? (p 276), the dress that she wore as a girl for her own gentleman callers. The reader can see from this that Amanda is definitely living in the past.
Another way that Amanda hides from reality is that she tries to deny anything that she does not want to accept. She denies that Laura is crippled, saying Nonsense! Laura, I’ve told you never, never to use that word.? (p 247). Amanda believes that if she denies something so much, that it will not be true. This also occurs when Laura thinks that the gentleman caller will be her high school crush, and Amanda denies that it could be, It won’t be him! It isn’t the least bit likely.? (p 278). It is in these ways that Amanda Wingfield hides from reality.
Laura Wingfield has chosen to hide from reality in the play The Glass Menagerie. She seems to live in a world of her own, and hides from everything and everyone outside of the apartment. Laura is terrified of anything new or different. Her mother sent her to business college, but Laura was so afraid that.
The first time [they] gave a speed-test, she broke down completely was sick at the stomach and almost had to be carried into the washroom. (p 243). Laura uses her limp as an excuse to hide from the world. She believes that her slight limp makes her crippled and that she cannot be a part of the real world because of it. Laura’s glass menagerie and the victrola act as things that protect her from the real world in the play. Whenever she is uncertain or afraid, Laura reaches for one of these two things for comfort.
When she finds out that Jim is engaged, and won’t come to see her again, she rises unsteadily and crouches beside the victrola to wind it up.? (p 307). The glass menagerie represents Laura to some extent, as she is fragile, like the glass, and can be broken easily. The unicorn particularly represents Laura, as it is something that does not belong in the real world, as she does not. When Laura does briefly enter the real world, it is shown through the unicorn losing its horn, ?the horn was removed to make him feel less freakish. Now he will feel more at home with the other horses.? (p 303). Laura will never belong to the real world, as she desperately tries to hide from the reality of it in the play.
In the play The Glass Menagerie, Tom Wingfield has chosen to hide from reality. Tom’s reality is that he works in a warehouse, has a nagging mother, a shy, crippled sister and he lives in a prison of an apartment. In order to escape the reality of his work in the warehouse, Tom often [retires] to a cabinet of the washroom to work on poems when business was slack in the warehouse.? (p 273).
Doing this, Tom can hide from his work and co-workers in the reality of his life. Tom craves for adventure in his life, and he finds this by going to the movies night after night, with a shower of movie-ticket stubs? (p 254) falling from his pocket when he comes home early one morning.
Does he also drink Kentucky Straight Bourbon? (p 254) to temporarily escape from the prison-like apartment, at which he lives. These things help Tom to escape from his reality, however, it is not very effective, as once he wakes up in the morning, he has to face the realities of his life once more. Tom seeks a more permanent escape and becomes a member of the Union of Merchant Seamen.? (p 283) hoping to leave his job at the warehouse and the apartment for good. This is Tom’s ultimate escape from the real world.
Mr. Wingfield has also chosen to hide from reality in the play The Glass Menagerie. His reality was that he had a responsibility to look after his wife, son, and daughter. However, he neglects this responsibility, therefore escaping his reality, by abandoning his family he gave up his job with the telephone company and skipped the light fantastic out of town (p 235). There is a difference between Mr. Wingfield and the rest of his family, and their escapes from reality.
This is that Mr. Wingfield created his own reality, and the others were living in the remains of what he left them. Mr. Wingfield moves his wife to the city as he worked for the telephone company? (p 285), and chose to raise his children there. After doing these things, he decides that it is not the life for him as he has [fallen] in love with long-distance! (p 285), and leaves without considering his family.
He then hides from the fact that he has left his family by not contacting them regularly, the only contact being a postcard containing a message of two words Hello Goodbye! and no address. (p 235). This is how Mr. Wingfield hides from reality in Williams? play, The Glass Menagerie.
All four members of the Wingfield family have chosen to hide from reality in The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams. Each member of the family has a different route of escape from reality, which helps them to lead a better life.
Amanda lives in the past and denies anything that threatens her, whilst Laura lives entirely in a world of her own, protected by the victrola and glass menagerie. Tom temporarily escapes his life through his poetry, heavy drinking, and endless trips to the movies, and his father, Mr. Wingfield has hidden from his reality by leaving his family. This is how the members of the Wingfield family have all chosen to hide from reality in the play.
Written by Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie is a masterpiece and it passes as a memory play for it exposits Tom Wingfield’s thoughts. A wishful poet, brother to Laura, and son to Amanda and ever absent Mr. Wingfield; Tom works hard in a shoe store to provide for his mother and sister. Amanda on the other side is a complicated mother who regales her children at this moment and scolds them in the next.
Amanda plays an important role in Laura’s reticence and pathological shyness. While she cannot be blamed for making her shy in the first place, she is to blame for making Laura’s continued shyness.
Instead of supporting Laura emotionally, she goes out to look for quick fixes and material gains. First, she enrolls in a business school for her to earn some good fortune. After realizing Laura’s weakness has kept her out of school, she does not care to investigate the problem and settle it amicably; on the contrary, she resorts into finding her a fiancé.
These are uninformed decisions and she is to blame for Laura’s continued shyness. If only Amanda were supportive, Laura would probably gain self-confidence and have high self-esteem. Amanda’s reminiscences on her youth in the South are not reliable. They are too overstated to be true. How can someone get seventeen callers in one afternoon? This is unrealistic; therefore, judged from this platform, Amanda’s reminiscences are treacherous.
Throughout this play, there are different forms of music, movies, and legends. These elements create an emotional impact on the play. The audience can connect with the main characters. For instance, the music and lightning used to make the audience connect with Laura’s shortcomings, Amanda’s indifference, and Tom’s struggles.
This play suggests a repressed desire boiling under the surface. Tom holds this burning passion; he wants to get out there and explore the world. This burning desire explains why Tom visits a witchdoctor and finds a way of getting out of a coffin without the hustle of pulling any nail.
His coffin here represents Wingfield’s home. The object of Tom’s longing is to explore the world out there and this is why he plans to accompany Merchant Seamen to get out and explore the world. He says, “I am tired…movies tranquilize people, making them content to watch other people’s adventures without having any of their own…plan to join the Merchant Seamen” (Tennessee 62). This trip would finally quench Tom’s desire to explore the world.
The absence of Mr. Wingfield affects his children and his wife greatly. Tom has to work for the family whilst Laura knows only a nagging mother. Perhaps she would gain self-confidence and self-esteem if she had her father around her. Amanda is ever worried because of her fatherless family.
She is too concerned about her family’s financial security that she would not let Tom leave without getting Laura a suitor who would provide for her. To counter her fears, Amanda enrolls Laura in a business school hoping that she would be stable; provide for herself self and probably for the family. This stems from the fact that she fears without a father; her family would be insecure. If only Mr. Wingfield were around, she would be financially secure.
Jim O’Connor is a “nice, ordinary, young man” (Tennessee 5). These adjectives come out clearly in the context of the play. Due to his ‘ordinary’ nature, he manages to win Laura’s confidence, dances with her, and finally kisses her. His ‘niceness’ drives away Laura’s fears and low self-esteem and she opens up to him. As the play closes, Tom tells Laura, “Blow out your candles, Laura–and so good-bye” (Tennessee 97). The audience may respond to this statement by concurring with it.
Laura has to blow out her candles and reach for the lighting that lights the world nowadays. Tom is the protagonist of this story. Tom is the most crucial to the play’s dramatic action because everything revolves around him. Without him, the Wingfields would not be, Jim would be unknown, and the central theme of illusions would not be realized.
Light and music are two elements of drama that can become significant in developing the plot and characters. Certain playwrights may further incorporate stage lighting including directional lighting and setting the lighting in order to not only divert attention to the critical area of the stage but as well to adequately present their ideas.
Correspondingly, music as well can be indirectly implemented in plays through the characters’ dialogue and allusions to musical pieces; thus, becoming symbolic. Furthermore, this music can be directly presented in the background of the play. Both playwrights, Tennessee Williams and Athol Fugard employ the elements of lighting and music in their respective plays, The Glass Menagerie and Master Harold and the Boys in order to both intensify the reality of their plays as well as develop the theme of escapism and the accompanying theme of hope and hopelessness.
Williams uses light for stage directions and as a symbol in The Glass Menagerie in order to develop his theme of hope; more specifically, to portray Laura’s ultimate sense of hopelessness. The stage directions call for “gloomy gray” lighting with a “turgid red glow” and a “deep blue husk”. This form of lighting helps construct the images of memory and its unrelenting power as well as its associated mood of nostalgia and deep melancholy. Such a mood is one that alludes to a sense of hopelessness for which Laura experiences. This hopelessness is emphasized through the symbol of light rather than the stage lighting.
That is, the following simile is developed where Laura is described to be “like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting”. Such a description not only forecasts her inability to maintain confidence but as well suggests that her beauty is innately tied to her delicacy and the disadvantage she has with her condition. Moreover, it displays the impermanence of hope in her life, as it comes as quickly as it goes. Williams further emphasizes Laura’s delicacy through another character—Jim. Upon Jim’s arrival to their home, and Laura’s refuge, there is a “delicate lemony light” that appears and eventually a soft light that brings out Laura’s “unearthly prettiness”.
As the light symbolizes hope, it becomes evident that Jim provides Laura with a temporary sense of hope upon his arrival. The “lemony” or yellow color that the light is described through, however, becomes of significance as it becomes cautionary of the damage that Jim will ultimately provoke in Laura. Though Jim enlists hope in Laura by providing her with comments that temporarily raise her self-confidence, he flees abruptly, leaving Laura hopeless once again and thus sparking the argument that the play ends on a rather pessimistic note. Williams underscores this lack of hope through Tim’s physical escape from the house; that is, his attempt to escape their reality suggests that he too has withdrawn all his hope in Laura having a better, happier life.
Williams further conveys the very theme of escapism and demonstrates the characters’ abstinence from confronting reality by incorporating music in his theatrical piece. Not only does the music hold a great degree of symbolic significance, but it as well provides emotion to the scenes. In the fourth scene, for example, Williams incorporates “Ava Maria” in the background in order to allude to the harsh responsibilities that Amanda has as a mother.
These responsibilities are what ultimately fuels Amanda’s desperate efforts in obtaining a better life for her daughter. In the process of doing so, Amanda feels inclined to escape her reality and own failures as well as the reality of Laura’s handicap. As Tom attempts to make his mother face the reality of her daughter’s handicap, “the music changes to a tango that has a minor and somewhat ominous tone”. The music helps to provide a worrying impression and thus demonstrate Amanda’s fear of reality and the consequences that come with confronting reality. Another character whose attitude towards reality is described through music is Laura.
That is, as Jim arrives, Laura becomes terrified and begs her mother to open the door, but she refuses and forces Laura to open it. Before reluctantly opening the door, however, she winds the Victoria to play music. Laura attempts to play this music in order to escape from the intense situation—to escape reality. With Amanda escaping from her past, Laura escaping her troubled existence and Tom escaping the house with its responsibilities including the burden of obtaining a better life for Laura, the characters ultimately push each other farther apart as they retreat into their own imaginations. Hence, music aids in conveying not only the idea of escapism but as well in depicting the alienation the characters feel from not only one another but from society as a whole.
Fugard as well employs light in his play, Master Harold and the Boys merely as a symbol for hope. When Hally and Sam discuss ballroom dancing, and whether or not dance is considered a form of art, Hally argues and describes that in his imagination, dancing simply involves people “having a so-called good time”. Sam offers another description, claiming that Hally’s imagination “left out the excitement” and that it is “not just another dance…there’s going to be a lot of people…having a good time…party decorations and fancy lights all around the hall…the ladies in beautiful evening dresses!”
The lights evidently become symbolic of positivity and hope as the description of such lights aid Sam in defying Hally’s pessimistic outlook on ballroom dancing. Fugard associates “fancy lights” with the extended metaphor of ballroom dancing in order to present ballroom dancing in a rather positive and hopeful manner. By doing so, Fugard describes the dreamlike quality that the dance and dancers possess.
This sort of description demonstrates the dance as a metaphor for social harmony. The symbolic element of light is again presented at the end of the play when the jukebox “comes to life in the gray twilight”. This gray light is incorporated at the end of the play in order to further emphasize the hope for such potential harmony and peace among Blacks and Whites. As gray is midway between black and white, Fugard deliberately incorporates this light as a means of conveying the hope for Blacks and Whites to come together as one. This very idea is further highlighted through Fugard’s employment of the motif of music and the corresponding theme of escapism.
Fugard uses music to not only provide movement to the play but as well to develop the theme of escapism; more specifically, escaping reality as attempted by Sam and Willie. Throughout the play, Sam and Willie practice the “waltz” and “foxtrot” for their ballroom dancing. Similar to light, music as well becomes associated with the extended metaphor of ballroom dancing. Thus, the music helps to allude to a dreamlike, collision-free world by which the dancers are capable of enlisting order in a disordered world, and respectively, an ideal society with no “collisions” between Blacks and Whites.
Sam and Willie use music and ballroom dancing to escape their realities; however, Hally interferes with such an escape as he claims “The truth? I seem to be only one around here who is prepared to face it. We’ve had the pretty dream; it’s time now to wake up and have a good long look at the way things really are. Nobody knows the steps, there’s no music, the cripples are also out there tripping up everybody and trying to get into the act, and it’s all called the All-Comers-How-to-Make-a-[Mess]-of-Life-Championships.” As music becomes a symbol for escaping reality, Hally specifically indicates that there is “no music” in order to suggest that escaping reality is impossible. Fugard does not, however, allow these words to convey his final message. Rather, he officially ends the play with lyrics of a song sung by Sarah Vaughn called “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day”. This song becomes significant as it suggests that Hally is the little man who was compelled upon adulthood.
The little man in the context of the song is in tears because he lost his toys; this seems so simple and foolish to the adult but heartrending to the child. Rather than neglecting his child or disregarding his sadness, the father comforts the child and suggests for him to go to bed. Correspondingly, Sam, who is presented as the ‘father’ of Hally provides him with unconditional support and suggests for him to sleep so as to allude to escaping the harsh reality of the apartheid system. Though insulted by Hally’s spitting, he ultimately does not lose hope on Hally waking up and realizing that he can control his life and personal decisions and overlook the system of apartheid.
Both Athol Fugard and Tennessee Williams develop the theme of escapism and theme of hope and hopelessness in their plays Master Harold and the Boys and The Glass Menagerie through their incorporation of light and music in the form of stage directions and motifs. Though there is an evident similarity in the manner by which the two playwrights develop these themes, there is also an apparent difference in the final meaning that the two are attempting to convey.
That is, Tennessee Williams uses light to convey a sense of hopelessness while Athol Fugard employs this light to leave the audience with a more hopeful attitude towards the future by the end of his play. Williams’ use of light helps justify the characters’ desire to escape their reality and retreat into their fantasy world. Because there is no hope in enhancing their lives, all the characters cope through a complete escape. Fugard offers an antithetical message; rather than the characters’ hopelessness propelling them to escaping their reality, it is their ability to escape the harsh reality of the apartheid system that provides them with hope.
The difference in the two plays is further understood through the macrocosmic vision that the two playwrights allude to. In The Glass Menagerie, Williams portrays a sense of hopelessness and an ultimate desire to escape in his play in order to emphasize the way in which individuals viewed the 1940s as an exciting escape from the 1930s. Hence, Amanda, Laura, and Tom become associated with other Americans in the Great Depression who sought relief from their distressing lives by escaping their reality through films, false identities, and fantasies.
By making such an association, Williams demonstrates the negative effect of The Great Depression. In Master Harold and the Boys, Athol Fugard ends on a more optimistic note in order to send out an anti-apartheid message—a message that transcends the norms of South Africa at the time.
He encourages the fight against racial segregation as he suggests that society can be a whole and can be harmonious if Blacks and Whites function in unison with each other. Thus, it becomes evident that the manner by which the two playwrights present their themes in their plays correspond with their macrocosmic visions—with and without hope.
Tennessee Williams’ play “The Glass Menagerie” relives the horrors of the Great Depression and the effects it had on many people’s lives. The story is in many ways about the life of Tennessee Williams himself, as well as a play of fiction that he wrote. However, the story is based on Tennessee and his family’s struggle to emotionally deal with the harsh realities that followed the crash of 1929 (807).
He says in the beginning, “I give you the truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” (695). The characters Tom, Laura, and Amanda are very much like Williams, his sister Rose, and his mother Edwina. The characters’ lives seem to avoid reality more than facing it. Each character changed their difficult situations into shadows of truth. This gives us the image that not one of the characters is capable of living entirely in the present. Each character retreats into their separate worlds to escape the brutality of life.
The playwright has done remarkable use of symbols, tensions, and irony. He uses all of these components to express the main theme of the play; the hopeful desire to change the present followed by unavoidable disappointments. All of the characters have dreams, which are destroyed by the harsh realities of the world. As the narrator admits in his opening of the play, “since I have a poet’s weakness for symbols,” is an expression of a particular theme, idea, or character.
One major symbol is the fire escape, which has a separate function for each character. This fire escape provides a means of escape for Tom to get away from his cramped apartment and nagging mother. Therefore, the fire escape, for Tom, represents a path to the outside world where dreams are. For the gentleman caller, the fire escape provides the means through which Jim can enter the Wingfield’s apartment and serves as an entrance to their lives.
For Amanda, Tom’s mom, the fire escape allows Jim to come into the apartment and prevent Laura from becoming a spinster. For Laura, Tom’s sister, it is her door to the inside world in where she can hide. It is ironic that when Laura does leave the security of her apartment, she falls. This symbolizes Laura’s inability to function properly in the outside world.
Another major symbol is the title “The Glass Menagerie,” which represents Laura’s hypersensitive nature and fragility. Laura is just as easily broken like a glass unicorn and just as unique. When Jim accidentally bumps into the unicorn and breaks it, the unicorn is no longer unique. When Jim kisses Laura and then shatters her hopes by telling her that he’s engaged, she becomes broken-hearted and loses her innocent being, which made her unique. Both Laura and her glass menagerie break when they are exposed to the outside world, represented by Jim.
When Laura gives Jim her broken unicorn as a souvenir, it symbolizes her broken heart that Jim will take with him when he leaves and it also provided her with new confidence. Now the unicorn is no longer unique, like her, but rather as common as a horse, like him. Therefore, she gives the unicorn to Jim, giving him a few her shattered hopes to take with him.
The Glass Menagerie also uses a rainbow to symbolize hope and each mention of rainbows in the play is associated with a hopeful situation. A good example is when Tom talks about the rainbow-colored scarf that he got at the magic show. He talks about how it changed a bowl of goldfish into flying canaries and just like the canaries, Tom hopes to fly away too; to escape from his imprisonment of himself and his family. The chandeliers, that create rainbow reflections at the dance hall, foreshadow the dance between Jim and Laura, which also gives leaves hope within her.
In the end, when Tom looks at pieces of colored glass-like bits of a shattered rainbow, he remembers his sister and hopes that he can blow ‘her’ candles out. Basically, though the rainbows seemed to be positive signs, it all ends in disappointment. As shown mostly through the narrator Tom, “maintains the distance between himself and the pain of the situation through irony,” and also explains, “For the artist, the irony is a device that protects him from the pain of his experience so that he may use it objectively in his art” (734).
The play itself focuses on the apartment life that Amanda, Laura, and Tom Wingfield share in the city and it is among many dark alleys with fire escapes. Tom and Laura do not like the dark atmosphere of their living conditions, even though their mother tries to make it as pleasant as possible.
An apartment that had only two small windows in the front and rear rooms, and a fire escape blocked the smoky light from a back alley. A home that is a lower-middle-class neighborhood, which seemed disgusted. Amanda is a typical Southern belle who fantasizes about her seventeen gentlemen callers back in Blue Mountain.
In reality, the mother depends on her son’s income to support the family. She regularly attends the D.A.R. meetings, which is an important outlet for her activities. Amanda believes that Laura needs to have some gentlemen callers visiting their apartment because she does not want Laura to be an old unmarried spinster, which is just like her. This comes from her selfish concern about Laura but also from her being unattached.
Tom is trying to support his mother, sister, and himself with his work at a shoe factory. This was a typical situation for this time frame. Many families struggled to survive on a single income during the country’s recovery from the crash of 1929. Tom does not want this job because it is a career, and he will have to do it all his life. Instead, he wants to be a writer and spends most of his time working on poetry.
Amanda constantly criticizes Tom’s wishes, and she pressures him to bring home a gentlemen caller from his work to introduce to Laura. Amanda explains to Tom that she knows that he wants to leave them, but he should at least be responsible enough to take care of his sister’s destiny before he departs. Tom and Laura do have a close relationship, and he obliges with Amanda’s request to bring home a gentlemen caller for his sister.
For Tom movies were always exciting for him and were another avenue of escape from the world. In the play, Amanda constantly questions Tom about his daily “leaves to the movies.” Tom tries to explain that he loves the movies so much, but Amanda does not believe that his evenings are so innocent. Meanwhile, Laura is a very shy girl and does not want to be involved with the world outside of their apartment.
She collects tiny glass animals and she treasures them more than actually participating in daily contact with the public. It comes to the point where Amanda enrolls her in a business school, hoping Laura will have some sort of trade and be able to support herself in the future. But, Laura is so shy that she does not attend classes and is eventually dropped from the enrollment.
Amanda somehow convinced Tom into inviting a nice young man from the shoe warehouse over to their apartment for dinner. When Jim O’Connor comes to dinner, Laura recognizes him as the boy that she had a crush on in high school. After dinner, Amanda tells Jim to keep Laura accompanied in the parlor. Initially, Laura is petrified, but she begins to feel more comfortable around him as they reminisce over high school days.
Jim dances with Laura and kisses her, only to reveal that he is engaged to another woman and must leave. This, seemingly, is the turning point of the play. Amanda believes that Tom has purposely made them look like fools and eventually got Tom to leave, just as his father had. At the end of the play, Tom realizes that he will never be able to forget the sister he had left behind.
All the characters seem to separate themselves from the cruel realities of their lives. Their efforts to escape serve only to distract them from their problems. Laura has come to an understanding degree of self-interest as a dependent sad girl. Tom still faces a dead-end life, though he runs away to find his dream. Amanda still has no means to support herself and Laura remains beset by a past colored by fantasy. While Jim leaves the stage, we wonder if he ever leaves the warehouse.
The comical relief is when Amanda accuses Tom of going out drinking every night. Tom creates a humorous story about how “Killer, Killer Wingfield spends his nights in opium dens, dens of vice and criminals’ hangouts.” By agreeing with his mother and turning the argument into a form of exaggeration, Tom wants to protect himself.
Tom seems to be distancing himself from the situation and avoiding the pain by turning it into a joke. He then makes a joke about his father’s abandonment, which he refers to his father as a “telephone man who fell in love with long distances,” to shield himself. He also talks of the last time he heard from his father with an ironic twist of humor of a postcard saying, “Hello” and “Goodbye.” It is also ironic that Tom’s last words in the play are the same as his father’s, “and so goodbye.”
The character Amanda also exhibits much irony in her character. She wants the best for her children, but she spends so much time worrying about it that she fails to realize what is best for them. Amanda dreams back to the time when she was a young girl and had seventeen gentlemen callers and says, “Those certainly were better days.” Though her past was wonderful, the present reality is that she is now an abandoned wife with two children. From that, she forces her ideas and opinions on her children and places them in bad situations. Especially, her ideal and obsession views are still based on her time and when she used to be well off in Blue Mountain.
Though Laura doesn’t want a gentleman caller, Amanda is concerned about Laura’s future. She has Tom bring Jim to their home and has Laura portray an image of a perfect southern hostess displaying honeysuckle manners and down-home coziness. Only for brief moments does she ever admit that her daughter is ‘crippled’ and then she resorts back to denial.
This, of course, ends in disaster as she finds out that Jim is getting married to someone else. She also wants Tom to be a successful, hard worker. As a result, she pushes him so hard that Tom leaves. The tension also unifies the theme of hopelessness and uselessness, as each character cannot fulfill their dreams.
The character of Laura is a fragile daughter figure that finds herself escaping life at every turn. She is unable to deal with life’s difficulties. Frightened of interacting with people, she looks to her collection of glass animals as a place of secure acceptance. Laura clings to the fear that she is strange and crippled, though she irritates the reality of that.
Magnifying her illness and denying her inner beauty to come forth, is the way Laura hides from a “world lit by lightning.” Laura had hopes that she would be with Jim and after he kisses her, she has a “bright, dazed look.” However, Jim merely calls himself a “stumblejohn” and informs her that he is engaged. With this, Laura’s hopes are shattered and she is unable to fulfill her dream.
Tom’s character, on the other hand, relies on self-denial to justify his concerns and feelings of insecurity. By making himself believe that he is a righteous male, he convinces himself that his needs are to take care of his family. But, Tom also escapes by entering into his world of poetry writing and movies. He cannot handle his meaningless job and his unsatisfying home life. His biggest dreams flash before his eyes on a screen in a darkened room. But, living in that little apartment he faces only the dimness.
Even during his reflections on the fire escape, he is not really separating himself because he is stuck in that mental frame, where he’s still anchored to the apartment wall. Tom dreams of being a poet and escapes to fulfill his dream at the end. He later finds out that he cannot forget Laura, as he wanders around town aimlessly thinking of her. It comes to the end, where Tom is trapped by his past.
Finally, our ordinary nice boy Jim character uses his glorified old memories saved by Laura to find some relief. Even Jim is still disappointed that his future hadn’t turned out to be what he imagined in his glorious high school days, where he was that great man on the campus. Stuck also in the same warehouse job as Tom, he uses his past to project towards his future success in TV, believing he will better himself.
While he takes classes in speaking, he hopes to recapture his good old high school days. Laura’s admiration gives Jim a feeling of need, and he fails to realize what he did to the fragile girl. Each time a character feels as if he or she is moving forward, they only move backward. Though the characters are constantly trying, nobody moves forward and nobody escapes.
In the end, the play is like our own lives. A life filled with possible escapes but sometimes there is no escaping. The characters, just like so many of us, try to find their ways but succeed in tangling themselves in problems. These characters are victims of the time in which this play is written. During the Great Depression, many people were searching for that escape to a better life. Perhaps Tennessee Williams is trying to send a message that running away is not the way to solve life’s problems. In the 1930s, the suicide rate climbed nearly 30 percent (810).
In knowing this simple fact alone, it would be well understood that people were simply looking for a way out. Tennessee Williams uses the theme of escape throughout to demonstrate the hopelessness and futility of each character’s dreams. The true feeling of hopelessness, that describes each character’s behavior, would be directly related to the economic conditions during that time.
The escape theme demonstrated in Mr. Wingfield and Tom’s departure, the fire escape, and the dance hall prove to be a dead-end in many ways. Thus, the only escape in life is by solving your problems, not avoiding them. This theme held true for American recovery after the Great Depression. The only way economic conditions were going to change would be to solve the economic problems, not escaping them by blaming everyone else.
Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie is replete with symbolism, and the fire escape is an important symbol in the play.
Leading out of the protagonists’ – the Wingfield’s – apartment, is the fire escape that has a landing. This physical structure represents an escape from the dysfunction and the fires of frustration in the Wingfield household. Tom makes his opening address to the audience from the fire escape.
Different characters see the fire escape in different ways. For Tom, the fire escape is a golden chance to get away from his nagging mother. For Amanda, it is a door through which gentleman callers for Laura can come. For it is a pathway towards the unknown and the dangerous.
The fire escape in The Glass Menagerie serves two functions. One is as a tool for characterization, and the other is as a symbol for a central theme of the play, which is “escape.”
Characterization in the play is brilliantly done by means of the contrast between the two central characters: Laura and Tom. Laura, who is symbolized as the fragile glass menagerie, stumbles on the fire escape, signaling her inability to escape her life circumstances. She is helpless and fragile to the point of being unable to use an escape route. Herman suggests that Laura has a disability, which makes her socially unsuccessful and shy. This is compounded by the fact that her mother Amanda is overprotective and smothering.
Tom, on the other hand, has the will and the ability to escape from the dysfunctional family, and he often steps out on to the fire escape landing to light smoke. His independent streak is very well demonstrated by his frequent trips to the fire escape landing. As a natural culmination of his yearning to be independent, he stands on the fire escape landing at the end of the play, ready to go out into the world and escape from the world of the glass menagerie.
The fire escape is integral to the theme of escape too in the play. Escape or the inability to escape is a theme of The Glass Menagerie. When there is a means of escape available, do people make use of it? Alternatively, do people get caught in their own life so much that they lose the will and the ability to escape? For Laura, escape is impossible, as the only time she tries the fire escape, she stumbles. Tom, however, wants to and can escape. He shows that many times by moving to the fire escape landing for a smoke, and finally at the end of the play by deciding to move away from the family.
The Glass Menagerie examines the universal conflict that arises when individuals must choose between self-fulfillment and family commitment (Janardanan). The fire escape in the play is the symbol of a path to self-fulfillment, which in the end, Tom takes, though he can never really forget his mother and sister.
Symbolism is a major aspect of Tennessee William’s famous play, “The Glass Menagerie.” On the surface, the short slice of life story seems to be simple. However, if the reader digs deeper they will find that there are several symbols that give the play a deeper meaning.
Each character defines each symbol in a different way. There are some very noticeable symbols that can be analyzed when studying “The Glass Menagerie.” The first is the actual glass menagerie that represents the fragility of the Wingfield’s dreamlike existence. The second is the fire escape, which reflects each character’s tendency to escape from reality in their own ways. The third is the yellow dress, which represents youth and the past.
The actual animal collection, or glass menagerie, symbolizes each character in the story. Like the glass animals, the characters’ realities are very fragile and in danger of being shattered. It is also as though the characters are stuck in glass, unable to move or change, also like the glass animals.
They are inanimate, as the characters have learned to be to hide and escape from the pain that life has given them. Laura loves glass animals because her family is like them. It will not take much, like Tom leaving, to shatter their whole world.
Laura is symbolized by her fragile collection of glass animals, the glass menagerie. Her favorite animal is a unique unicorn. The unicorn is different because it has a horn. When Laura was in high school, she wore a brace. The unicorn and Laura are alike in this way. When Jim dances with Laura, he knocks over the unicorn and the horn breaks off. Now it is like all of the other horses.
The unicorn losing its horn is a symbol. The unicorn in its original state symbolizes something different. It is delicate, beautiful, and precious in its own unique way. This could symbolize Laura has natural beauty in an “unearthly way” that is hidden by her shyness and limp. When Laura starts to talk to Jim, she gets more confidence in herself and realizes that she is not that different from everyone else in the world. The horn symbolizes a difference, an obstacle to be overcome and admired.
The fire escape is a major symbol in this play. It represents a different symbol for each character. For Amanda, the fire escape is a way for her to be protected from the outside world or reality. She cannot live in the present, and the lack of a front door makes it easy for her to avoid real life. She convinces herself that she isn’t capable of leaving the safe haven she has created by locking herself inside the strange apartment. She has become trapped by her memories. Laura uses the fire escape as a symbol in a similar way. She, too, is protected from the outside world by the fire escape, and she is also limited by it because of her handicap.
It will require an extra effort for Laura to overcome her limp and get out into the world using the fire escape, symbolizing how her life is more difficult because of her handicap and her delusional mother. Tom uses the fire escape as an escape to the outside world. He cannot live in the depressed delusions of his mother and sister’s reality, so he goes out of the fire escape to work, and to the movies. He even succeeds in bringing in a possible replacement for him, someone else to take care of his helpless family members, when he brings Jim O’Connor into the apartment.
The yellow dress that Amanda insists on wearing when Jim comes over symbolizes her desperate attempt to live in the past when she was young. The yellow and blue silk frock is a symbol of her youth and of the times in her life when she was happy. She wore it when she won the cakewalk twice at Sunset Hill, and she wore it at the Governor’s Ball in Jackson. This reminds her of happier times when she didn’t have to worry about being a single mother with few skills to raise a family on her own.